NATURAL RESOURCES; Sharing Plenty

Article excerpt

Purchase of a local water utility by the city-owned utility system JEA, a proposal currently pending, is a mixed blessing.

As it happens, JEA currently is a well-run public agency and the customers of the water system probably will be better off in the long run.

But there is a place for private ownership of water systems, as the Economist argues persuasively in its current edition.

This is a huge public policy issue throughout the world, full of quirks, oddities and misunderstanding.

One of the quirks: In the capitalist United States, most water systems are publicly owned. In socialist France, they are privately owned.

Private ownership means less than it sounds. In almost every case, the government controls the private ownership through regulation so that the owner cannot price the precious resource outrageously high.

Actually, in many cases, water is outrageously low-priced, resulting in overconsumption and waste.

People given to emotional reaction rail against any price, contending that water is a "God-given resource." Yes, but as the saying goes, God does not supply the pipes.

Water is plentiful on the Earth. Most of it is salt water, but the salt can be removed and is in many places, including Florida. …